116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Government & Politics / State Government
GOP lawmakers advance bills restricting school library books
Senate endorses governor’s proposal requiring parental permission
DES MOINES — Iowa Republicans advanced bills Wednesday that would restrict which materials are available to students in school libraries amid increased scrutiny from conservative activists around school material they consider to be explicit.
House lawmakers advanced out of a subcommittee and committee House Study Bill 219, which would require librarians to create a program that contains “only age-appropriate materials." The bill defines age-appropriate as “suitable to particular ages and age groups” and bars any items that include descriptions or visual depictions of a list of sex acts defined in Iowa law.
The program would be set up by the school librarian working with students, teachers, administrator and other staff, and regularly reviewed.
The bill is part of a trend of increased scrutiny on school library material, instruction and parental involvement in education that Republicans have made a central focus this legislative session. Last month, lawmakers held hearings with parents who advocated for removing certain books from school libraries and with administrators, asking about the processes for selecting and reconsidering library books.
Public school advocacy groups said they have concerns with the study bill, but were more supportive of it than some other bills dealing with library books being considered.
“We really like this bill as opposed to a lot of the other pieces that we’ve seen,” said Craig Patterson, a lobbyist for the Iowa Library Association.
But some people told lawmakers the broad exclusion of any sexual act from the definition of “age-appropriate” in the bill would disqualify large swaths of classic literature that is often taught in high schools.
Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, echoed those concerns, and said the bill could exclude books like “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“I am not for unleashing obscenities and pornography on our schools” Cahill said. “But I do feel there is some literary value in some of the things that are in our libraries.”
Rep. Brooke Boden, R-Indianola, said the bill sets out reasonable guidelines for which books are allowed in a school library.
“It’s really important that as we move forward we work together to make sure that we are putting things in our schools that are age-appropriate,” she said.
Senate advances library, LGBTQ bill
Also Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee advanced Senate Study Bill 1145, a proposal from Gov. Kim Reynolds that would put books removed from a school library for sexually explicit material on a statewide list, and students would need parents’ permission to check out the books at all other schools in the state.
The bill hits on other Republican goals: It would ban instruction on gender identity and sexual activity in kindergarten through fifth grade, require schools to notify parents if a student expresses a different gender than their sex at birth, and require parental permission to address a student by a different name and set of pronouns.
Republicans said the bill empowers parents to make decisions about their child’s education, noting the bill does not remove library books statewide but instead requires a parent to sign off on their child reading certain books.
“This bill does not ban books,” Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said. “It puts parents in the role of selecting what literature their child has access to.”
Books like “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” and “Gender Queer” have been successfully removed from schools in Iowa, according to PEN America.
Democrats argued restricting the books was akin to taking away the rights for parents who want their children to read certain books. The statewide list “imposes a burden” on all school districts if one district decides to remove a book, Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said.
The House Education Committee has advanced different portions of Reynolds’ proposal as separate bills, including a ban on instruction around gender identity and sexual orientation and a requirement that a school notify parents before addressing students with a different name or set of pronouns that does not align with their sex at birth.
Republican Senate Education Committee Chair Ken Rozenboom of Pella said the chambers and the governor are working toward a unified proposal.
“We’ve tried to be very aware of and responsive to the House wishes too, so that’s why I feel positive about it,” he said.
Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Hull, who chairs the House Education Committee, said he does not think there are not enough votes in the House for the portion of Reynolds' bill that sets up a statewide list of challenged books.
"They're taking that path, we're taking this path. We'll see how it aligns," he said.